10/13/2011 11:49 am ET Updated 4 days ago

The Leather Report

What more perfect way to end our first day in Cape Town than a lovely dinner with New York-based fashion designer Tina Lutz. Like many other old friends and colleagues, Tina and her friend Barbara are here to help celebrate Desmond Tutu's 80th birthday.

Tina's been traveling the world for the past several months, encountering beautiful design across Africa, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe. So, it was a lot of fun talking about OBene's plan to introduce just such marvels to shoppers in America, who are looking for products with a story, a soul, and a certain sensibility that sets them apart.

And of course, in the cradle of democracy, OBene will empower shoppers to designate at least 10 percent of every sale to their favorite charity. A collective win for global makers, American buyers, and charities across the globe.

We also returned today with the first cache of samples from an amazing local leather goods designer.

Those who know me, are well versed in my affection for poetry, so how could I resist these gorgeously-detailed and whimsical purses, inspired by Edward Lear's sweet meter and rhyme? These are perfect for carrying a phone, a lipstick, and as many notes as you'll need.


"The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey,
and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note."


The printing, stitch-work, and detailing on the larger bags that we selected are remarkable. They are handcrafted here in Cape Town from leather, embroidery, stamped canvas, and other embellishments sourced throughout South Africa. Each item is a limited run, so it's essential to carpe diem before they sell through. That's why we're heading back to secure what we can and make it available so that you and your charities can benefit.

Other finds:

  • Long sweeping necklaces with beads, metallic pieces and recycled off-cuts of leather. Tie me up.
  • Colored leather disguised as oxidized metal. Light as a feather. Fierce as a falcon.
  • Life's a thrilling mystery -- every day -- with your mask on a chain. Oh meow.

We're off to another studio tomorrow, so check back in for updates. Also coming soon, a preview of OBene's iconic inaugural partners:

Schier Shoes: unique, custom-made Indigo kudo leather desert boots from Namibia. Incredibly groovy.

Henry Dombey Photos: striking black and white images from travels in South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, and Tanzania. Totally transporting.

Indego Africa: gorgeous hand-knit wool & silk scarves from Rwanda. They'll warm you in all the good spots.